If you’ve ever had to navigate a canoe down a winding, obstacle-heavy river, you know how important it is that the bow and the stern are synchronized.
For a minute, I want you to close your eyes and imagine your business as a canoe and the river as the specific market or industry in which you operate. Think of the rower in the front of the boat (the bow) as your organization, providing power and forward motion to your business. The stern is your strategy, providing a steady rudder or direction to help navigate the vessel.
It’s the responsibility of the stern (your strategy) to evaluate the external environmental shifts and make the right choices that influence the direction of the vessel and align closely with the bow (your organization). If not, you’re likely to end up adrift or stuck, requiring brute force or heroic efforts to stay on course.
And just as rivers change and become increasingly difficult to navigate, so should your organizational strategy.
It’s very tempting in times of change, ambiguity, and uncertainty to keep doing what you’re doing regardless of the environmental shifts around you. However, simply paddling harder through these periods, or doing more of the same, is usually counterproductive.
Therefore, an important mark of resilient businesses is the willingness to step back, reevaluate and closely examine their overall strategy and direction. And, in times of uncertainty, they do it frequently.
If I were to step out on a busy street corner and ask ten people “what is strategy,” I would likely get ten different answers. This also explains one of the primary reasons strategies fail due to little or no alignment regarding what the strategy is or should be.
The lower you go in the organization, the picture, unfortunately, gets even bleaker. According to Gallup’s State of the Workplace report, only 22% of employees agree that their leaders have a clear direction for their organization.
Our definition of strategy is very simple. “Strategy is a set of choices, when resourced properly, that define how an organization creates and captures value in a designated market.” A strategic plan is different; it is to serve as an instruction manual for your organization to execute the strategy.
The four questions below provide a framework for the set of choices you make as an organization and serve as an outstanding template for the time you need to spend on re-evaluating your strategy in 2021.
Challenge your team to identify the changes that might be occurring that could have an impact on each question area, including:
– What is the vision we want to own now and in the future?
– How is the organization going to grow now and in the future?
– What should the organization do more of / or less of / or stop entirely?
– How will we engage, empower and mobilize the talent in our organization?
Without definitive answers to these questions or shared alignment and commitment, organizations will not have the clear direction they need to execute well.
Before you dive into the questions, be sure to spend ample time collecting feedback from your stakeholders. Soliciting feedback from customers, employees, team members, and associates regarding how the changing environment and current state are impacting them are critical. This information will provide valuable insight for your strategy conversations.
We encourage leadership teams to be very intentional in carving out dedicated time for important strategic conversations. This is not a one-and-done conversation by any stretch. It will take some time. If not done carefully, the day-to-day pressures can take energy away from the need for executives to be strategic and creative. It’s important to set aside a protected time on a regular basis, whether it be every other week or monthly, at a minimum.
From the questions outlined above, you might already recognize the need for some productive debate in order to make decisions and show the organization a unified front. We recommend executives rely on an outside facilitator who can serve as a guide through these conversations as well as helping to navigate any trust hurdles or misalignment that might exist within the team.
This is only a starting point. However, it is our experience that all great strategies start with even better questions. In the end, the time you spend collaborating on these strategic conversations stretches thinking, enhances relationships, and ultimately prepares you for the sharp turns and obstacles that will navigate you down the river.
Todd Garretson is the founder and CEO of CircleMakers, LLC. Todd possesses a lifelong passion for unlocking dormant growth potential in people, teams, and organizations. Todd provides consulting and coaching services for family-owned and privately-held organizations in the areas of strategic growth, leadership, and culture development. CircleMakers is an advisory firm that helps leaders build resilient organizations that out-perform and out-last.